Good leaders recognize the importance of communication styles in the workplace and deal with employees in the way that can best reach them.
Managers who learn the skills to identify and relate to different communication styles in the workplace have a powerful advantage. They can communicate with employees based on individual preferences and personalities as well as the situation at hand. These managers can gain the trust and respect of employees more easily than managers who have a one-size-fits-all communication style.
The good news is that communication skills are not a matter of genetics. Managers can improve those skills just as they can improve their ability to use spreadsheets or the latest office software. An important first step is to learn about the different communication styles in the workplace and how to navigate them. And that’s just what we will cover in this article.
Four primary communication styles
The consensus in social science is that there are 4 primary communication styles. It is worth a manager’s time to learn to work with each one. Of course, they also should know which style they use themselves.
The consensus in social science is that there are 4 primary communication styles. It is worth a manager’s time to learn to work with each one.
These employees often engage in aggressive communication and body language like intense eye contact. Other people may see them as arrogant, condescending, bossy, and rude. Managers can respond by remaining calm and getting right to the point with aggressive communicators, avoiding emotions and feelings. They should approach this personality type with actionable solutions but never tolerate abusive behavior.
People with a passive communication style are uncomfortable asserting themselves and stating their feelings or opinions. They tend to speak in a soft voice, defer to others, and accept responsibilities they do not really want. Because they so rarely share their thoughts and needs, managers should take a direct approach to communication. Use open-ended questions to gauge how they really feel and provide plenty of time for them to form a response.
Passive-aggressive people can be even more challenging to deal with than passive people because they are often hiding irritation, discontent, or frustration. They favor sarcasm as a communication tool. Although they are not honest about how they really feel, others pick up on the intended aggression anyway.
As with passive communicators, the direct approach works best with those who are passive-aggressive. Demonstrating proof of their action while diffusing the conversation with humor is an ideal way to try to reach them.
Assertive communication style
These employees tend to be intuitive communicators who do a good job balancing their needs with the rights of others. They accept challenges but can also comfortably decline when necessary. Most managers consider an assertive communicator to be ideal. Managers even look to them to set an example of clear communication for the other 3 types. However, it takes time for assertive people to learn to feel secure with their professional behavior. Managers should encourage and thank them for it as often as possible.
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Dealing with difficult personalities
Most working environments have at least one person with a difficult personality. Perhaps they chronically complain, have a quick temper, and like to argue. Or they might be fairly quiet, but everything they say is a dagger. Not all difficult personalities fall into one communication style. These employees will test a manager’s communication skills.
For starters, a manager should focus on active listening. That can be hard to do with a troublesome person. It helps, though, to really hear what the person is saying, as opposed to the way they are saying it. An important message could be getting lost because of the messenger.
Then, it might be time for enhancing transparency in your own communication. Set the stage for any attempt to change things by making sure that all communication is presented in a clear, straightforward manner. Make sure that the company’s wobbly way of communicating with employees, and your way, is not causing stress. Now it’s time to think about what communication style the person uses and how the information presented in the previous section can be applied.
One of the most important things anyone can do when dealing with people with difficult personalities is to set boundaries. Managers with a passive or passive-aggressive communication style might find it difficult to do this, but they’ll have to get out of their comfort zone. Two common examples of the use of boundaries are engaging in only necessary interactions with a difficult person and refusing to accept the blame for that person’s mistakes. Other strategies that can work with difficult people include:
- Do not interact with them alone.
- Maintain a moral high ground by not treating them in the same manner that they act.
- Try to view the situation from their perspective despite disagreements.
If these methods do not work, managers should seek assistance from HR.
Understanding what drives introverts and extroverts
Psychologists broadly divide society into 2 categories: introverts and extroverts. Understanding the differences between them can be immensely helpful in determining the best way to communicate with them at work.
It’s estimated that introverts make up 25% to 40% of the population. A manager needs to know how to communicate with these individuals who are known for being quiet.
It’s estimated that introverts make up 25% to 40% of the population. A manager needs to know how to communicate with these individuals who are known for being quiet. How can a company make sure it’s hearing what it needs to hear from its introverts? Here’s a look at how introverts prefer to communicate.
- Would choose a one-on-one conversation rather than a group meeting if given the chance.
- Prefer to think things through before making decisions or speaking.
- Email, texting, and other forms of written communication are their go-to way of getting messages across.
- They are willing to share deep truths about themselves after managers and coworkers have gained their trust.
- They have no problem remaining in the background and allowing others to do all the talking.
Extroverts are typically outgoing, share their thoughts easily, and enjoy attention. Work culture in the United States tends to favor extroverts. Extroverts also tend to share certain communication traits.
- Prefer to speak in person or on the telephone over written communication.
- Engage multiple people in dialogue when working towards a solution.
- Engage in external processing by talking about issues until they arrive at a solution.
- May not always have an appropriate social filter.
Managers should keep in mind that people do not always fit neatly into the boxes of introvert or extrovert. Most display signs of both depending on the situation.
Consider personality in the hiring process
Many businesses have adopted the philosophy of “hire for culture, train for skill” in an attempt to reduce turnover. What this means in practice is that recruiters, HR departments, and managers consider a candidate’s personality equally important, if not more so, than technical skills.
Behavioral interviewing provides candidates with potential on-the-job scenarios and asks them how they would respond. While no one can describe how they would react with total accuracy, their responses help to reveal their communication style. Of course, the way they tell these stories also sheds light on this. The result is that everyone involved in the hiring process can better assess whether they would react in a way that most people in the organization would find helpful. Asking open-ended questions and paying attention to body language are additional ways of sizing up how well a candidate would fit into the accepted company culture.